Friday 18 March 2011
Brian Viner: London 2012 is the time to do a runner
With gold-medal winning serendipity, the Olympic countdown clock in Trafalgar Square developed a glitch on Tuesday just hours after transmission of the first episode of Twenty Twelve, a spoof BBC documentary series about general haplessness in the preparation of next year's Games.
This was swiftly, one might even say mercilessly, followed by the embarrassing discovery that people wanting to enter the ticket ballot on the official website could not pay with credit cards which expire before August this year, of which there are some 10 million in the hands of the great, glitch-weary British public.
All this was an exquisite example of art imitating life, and life promptly returning the compliment. But let us hope, even as we chuckle at the expense of the Olympic organisers, that the cock-ups – and there will doubtless be more – do not extend to the security arrangements. If they do, it won't be for lack of manpower.
I'm told, though it has yet to be formally announced, that all police leave is to be cancelled during the run-up and duration of the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. That doesn't just apply to the Metropolitan Police and forces in the south of England, but police the length and breadth of the kingdom. Such are the concerns not only that al-Qa'ida might try to spoil the party, but that anyone with a grievance might seize an opportunity for global publicity. So while I'd hate to give anyone ideas, burglars and bank robbers from Bideford to Barnsley should probably make sure that they, too, avoid booking a summer holiday to coincide with the Olympics.
Meanwhile, those in charge of security are particularly interested in police officers with "special skills". Public order officers trained in crowd control and even hostage negotiators have all been told, wherever they work, that they can expect to be redeployed for at least a month. As can the elite rifle-trained firearms officers who, in the elegant words of a chief superintendent friend of mine, "can shoot the bollocks off a gnat at three kilometres". He was joking, but only just, assuring me that the rifle officers in his force would, from any distance up to three kilometres, be disappointed not to hit a 10p coin. Never mind policing the Olympics, they should be taking part.
Manifestly, some venues are more vulnerable than others. Weymouth, for example, is great for sailing but not so marvellous for security, which is why a senior officer in the Dorset Police travelled to China during the Beijing Olympics, to see how things were done in Qingdao.
The Chinese had built a barrier stretching seven miles across the water to ensure that the only boats in and around the sailing events were those meant to be there, and when the British police officer asked what they would do if the barrier were breached, they smiled and said it wouldn't be.
"But what if it is?" he pressed. They pointed out two large warships, and politely said again that it wouldn't be. But, you know, what about the lone nutcase who won't be put off even by the presence of warships? At this they just looked plain confused.
As my friend says, the Chinese have no concept of the lone Fathers 4 Justice campaigner in a pedalo, dressed as Batman. Not many countries have. But that is the image, even more than the sophisticated terrorist cell, that by all accounts represents the biggest headache for the 2012 security tsars.
Now Al Fayed reallyhas gone off the wall
Dear old Mohamed al Fayed. With his football club, Fulham FC, well run and firmly entrenched in the Premier League, he goes and reminds us what a splendidly capricious old buffer he is, this time by announcing the imminent erection of a statue of his beloved friend, the late King of Pop Michael Jackson, outside Fulham's homely ground Craven Cottage.
Apparently the statue had been earmarked for Harrods, but then Al Fayed went and sold the Knightsbridge landmark to the Qatari royal family, leaving him with only one venerable British institution to call his own. An institution, moreover, which it is safe to assume held little place in his heart before it attracted the interest of his wallet.
This augured badly for Fulham fans, who are quaintly known as the Cottagers. And yet they will no doubt manage to swallow their indignation at having a memorial forced on them of Wacko Jacko, whose undoubtedly nifty footwork never, as far as I'm aware, graced the penalty area.
For, incredible though it seems, Al Fayed remains a paragon of good judgment compared with some of the foreign plutocrats making playthings out of English football clubs.
Letters from an unknown woman
JM Bond, author of the Bond Assessment Papers, died last month. The Bond Assessment Papers, devised in the 1960s, were used to test schoolchildren and sold in their millions, yet never made a household name of their creator.
This anonymity prompted someone at The Times to write, in 2001, that "he is the living proof that there are many ways to achieve bookshop stardom". I'm sure it tickled Jean Moyra Bond that the writer hadn't even considered that he might be a she, but then she had used her initials precisely because the publishers felt her gender might hinder sales. From George Eliot to JM Bond and even, in the early days, JK Rowling, female authors have benefited from an assumption they were male. Let us hope one day the boot might be on the other, more shapely foot.
Sending homosexual delegates to Sochi doesn't begin to address Russia's gay rights crisis
We must not normalise food banks. Their proliferation is a mark of shame on this country
The sad and puzzling story of Abbas Khan, the British doctor found dead in Syrian jail
Anachronistic and iniquitous, grammar schools are a blot on the British education system
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